I love swimming. When I was little I stayed in the water until my lips turned blue. I used to imagine I was a mermaid and dreamed I could stay in that magical world below the surface forever.
My mermaid swimming games transformed the pond into my otherworldly playground.
As an adult, however, I lost that sense of fun and fantasy when I swam. In college, every evening, I would trudge up to the gym to put in my hour’s worth of laps. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Swimming – while still my fitness activity of choice – had started turning into drudgery.
My kids changed all that. With kids in the picture, first of all, it was hard to do laps or long swims. I had kids to watch.
But even more importantly, I started to regain my sense of fun in the water. I still don’t play swimming games as well as my kids do. But when I do, I find that I can get a great workout – while we have fun together.
So here’s a growing list of fun swimming games to try out with your children. It’s written with two basic age groups in mind – little fishes who are still mostly splashing and then those who have gotten their fins under them and are ready to cruise through the water.
Fun Swimming Games For The Littlest Ones
Seamonster: Lurk at the edge of the water, just deep enough where you can touch the bottom with your hands and let your feet drift behind you. You are the seamonster, with seaweed dripping from your jaw.
The object of the game is for the children to not get caught by the seamonster. You, the seamonster, can only use your hands to move yourself around. But don’t worry, like any patient predator, you know your prey can’t help but tempt fate. Your toddlers will squeal with delight as they run in and out of the water. And you’ll get a good little workout pulling yourself around by your arms.
Bucking Bronco: You, the parent, are the bucking bronco. And your child is the stubborn cowboy who won’t be moved. Squat down so that they can climb on your back, holding on piggy back style and hold on tight. They’ll need to hold you around your neck and wrap their legs around your waist.
Jump around. Spin. Take shallow dives. Move around through the water adjusting the moves to your child’s strength and comfort in the water. And your strength. As my kids got older, my husband (the bronco) would make his dives deeper and longer so they had to hold their breath and cling on hard.
If the fierce cowboy on your back can tire out the bull (you!), they’ve won. If their grip loosens and they fall, the water is there to catch them.
Unfortunately for the bull, they’ll probably be begging for another ride.
Bobbing Together: This is for children who are comfortable going under the water. Stand together where it’s about chest deep for them – you stand on the deeper side. Hold hands. Then – start slow – one of you goes down under and then springs up into a jump. As you jump up, your child squats down and goes under. When they spring up, you go down. Soon you’ll be pumping up and down like a couple of pistons in an engine.
It’s a simple motion, but kids get great delight out of it.
You can do this with kids who are ready to go over their head as well. Start off with one person going down and then sending themselves upward with one good frog kick. As they start to go up, the other goes down. Even without touching the bottom you can get a good rhythm going as you push off of each other’s upward or downward momentum.
Swimming Games For Big Kids
These games appeal to a larger age range and can be tweaked for different swimming abilities.
Underwater Tea Party: Stand together and then count one two three and go down under and try to stay under the water as you act out pouring tea, stirring it, eating and doing different tea party activities. See how long you can stay under.
Variations: Don’t just stick with tea parties. Before you go under, agree to other activities you’ll act out. Like building a house (measure things, saw the wood, hammer in the nails) or cooking a meal.
Alternatively, turn it into a version of charades where you try to guess what the other is acting out underwater.
Bulldozer: It’s amazing how appealing a rock can be underwater. My kids have spent hours with their friends moving rocks from one place to another underwater and building piles with them. Occasionally they’ve enlisted my help – and it’s tough work! If you’re swimming in a lake or pond, this can be a great task that can even spread out over days and weeks. (I’ve known some rock piles to be under construction all summer long)
If you’re swimming in a pool, put together a number of objects to collect – diving rings or other weighted objects and toss them into the pool. Have your children work on collecting them all by not only diving, but bringing them over to one spot. And join them in the enterprise.
Underwater Tunnel: This was one of our favorites when the kids were getting comfortable swimming underwater. Everyone lines up in a row, standing front to back. Spread your legs out in a wide straddle. Now the person in the back has to dive down and swim through everyone’s legs. Once they have successfully gotten through, they take their place at the front of the line with their legs apart and the last person then proceeds to swim through.
Littler guys may have to jump up a little when the parents swim through. You can make this more challenging by spreading out the space between all of you.
Sharks and Minnows: This works best in a restricted area like a pool, but you can set it up with boundaries in a more natural setting. Depending on the number of people playing you can have 1 or more people in the middle who are the sharks. The others are the minnows, safe only when they are touching the pool wall or beyond the safety boundary you established if you’re not playing in a pool. When the shark says “Go” all the minnows need to swim to the other side without getting caught by the shark.
Depending on the number of people playing, the minnows who are caught can either join the sharks or take over from them.
For non-swimmers, you can play this where it’s shallow enough to run. You all still get a good workout and they can run and dive and jump while enjoying the game. If you have a mixed group, have the littler ones try to get across where it’s shallower while the older kids swim across in the deeper end. (More work for the shark).
Marco Polo: Another classic swimming game, Marco Polo can be played in a pool or pond setting, but you need some boundaries established, including establishing the rule that no one can get out of the water. One person is Marco. Marco’s objective is to tag someone else.
However, there is a hitch. Marco needs to keep his or her eyes closed. The old marine technique of echolocation is their only means of locating the rest of the players. Whenever Marco yells, “Marco” everyone has to yell back “Polo”. Marco has to find his or her quarry by sound. Once Marco tags someone, they then become Marco.
Marines: My son and his friends love this game. It takes tag under water and adds a twist. One person is It and their objective is to tag the other people on the back by tapping them twice. Now you can try a frontal attack, but it’s pretty easy for the person eluding you to turn their back away from you. So stealthiness is the key.
Once you’re tagged, you become It.
A Few Other Fun Swimming Activities
- Play catch while treading water. Or even when standing. Just running a bit to catch the ball with the resistance of the water makes it more of a challenge. And you can really dive for the ball with lots of drama with the watery cushion under you! Bring a soft Nerf football, a cloth frisbee or tennis ball for the game.
- Do contests: A diving contest. Or who can tread water the longest. Or do an underwater handstand the longest. Or who can do the most underwater somersaults in a row.
- Have a bucket relay. Make two big holes about the same size on the beach about equidistant from the water and see which team can fill them up fastest with water from the shore. Alternatively, put 2 large buckets on the beach and give each team a small cup to fill it with.
- Have a good old splash fight. Chase each other down by any stroke necessary or simply run after each other in the water. And – most importantly – splash away. If you have little ones, each parent can take one piggy-back or hold them and chase each other down. My son loved going after his sister this way in our arms when he could barely walk . . . He could still splash furiously.
Enjoy the water in a whole new way with these games. What ideas or games do you have to add to the pool?